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Nationals 5, Cubs 2: Under protest

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The Cubs lost, but perhaps made a point.

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The most entertaining part of the Cubs’ 5-2 loss to the Nationals Saturday night came in the ninth inning, with Nats closer Sean Doolittle on the mound.

Doolittle began his pitching motion, hesitated, then made a brief toe tap on the mound [VIDEO] before delivering his pitch.

Joe Maddon did not care for that, not at all [VIDEO].

And you can understand why. Carl Edwards Jr., who had practiced a similar (though not identical) hesitation move during spring training, was told early in the season that move was illegal. It’s possible that was what resulted in CJ having some bad outings early on, and eventually being demoted to Iowa. (These things do not seem unrelated.)

Here is Joe’s explanation [VIDEO] of why the Cubs eventually played the game under protest.

Joe’s right. There’s no real difference here between what Doolittle was doing here and what CJ was doing (and as Joe mentions in the video, it also was “taken away” from Cory Gearrin of the Mariners).

What is likely to happen here is that MLB will issue an “approved ruling” (as it’s usually called when given to umpires to guide them in making calls) that pitching like this is illegal. However, Rule 7.04 of the official baseball rules, which covers protested games, states this:

Even if it is held that the protested decision violated the rules, no replay of the game will be ordered unless in the opinion of the League President the violation adversely affected the protesting team’s chances of winning the game.

FWIW, I’m not sure why that text still says “League President” when we don’t have league presidents anymore. Obviously, the Commissioner would make such a ruling, and in this case, with the Cubs down 5-2 with three outs to go, even if Rob Manfred ordered the ninth inning replayed with Doolittle not able to make those kinds of pitches anymore, the Cubs aren’t likely to change the result. Thus I doubt the Cubs’ protest would be upheld and no replay of the ninth would be ordered.

Via Retrosheet, here is an article detailing protests that were upheld. The most recent one, in fact, involved the Cubs — it was the famous “TarpGate” game at Wrigley against the Giants in August 2014. Here’s what I wrote about that game, and other protests, at the time. It was the first upheld protest since 1986.

In any case, Maddon has a point, I believe he’s likely correct, but there isn’t going to be any change in the result of this game. Here’s what Doolittle had to say:

I can’t really argue with that. Clearly, beyond Joe wanting the rules to be applied to everyone equally, he was engaging in a bit of gamesmanship. From plate umpire Sam Holbrook:

Since there has been an official protest, there will have to be a ruling from MLB sometime today. I would expect the ruling to be that the protest is disallowed and the game (inning) will not be replayed. But eventually, I also expect a ruling from MLB that pitching the way Doolittle did won’t be allowed.

Oh, right. There were eight other innings in this game. The Cubs just couldn’t do much with Stephen Strasburg all night. It was clear that the Cubs’ game plan was to look for hittable pitches early in the count. They got them, but mostly hit baseballs on the ground right at people. By the time they sneaked a run across in the fifth, the Nats already had a 4-0 lead off Jon Lester. Lester had a 28-pitch first inning, and even though he didn’t allow any runs then, you knew this was going to be a rough night for Jon. He departed without completing the fifth inning and the aforementioned Carl Edwards Jr. finished up that inning with no weirdness as happened Friday night. David Bote then hit a home run in the sixth [VIDEO] that made the final score closer than it appeared.

Tyler Chatwood threw the next two innings. He issued two walks, but allowed no hits, and got out of each inning without allowing runs. So... yay? I guess this is all right, if he can hold down the number of baserunners. That’s a 1.000 WHIP for the outing, which is just fine. If Chatwood had allowed two hits and no walks, would that have been better? It’s basically the same thing. Chatwood’s walk rate is 6.3 per nine innings, which is still too high, but his season WHIP is 1.397, down significantly from last year, and currently it’s his best since his 3.4 bWAR 2016 season.

It was just a weird game that never felt close, and the protest livened things up a bit. Oddity: The Cubs had no at-bats the entire game with RISP, and left no runners on base. The Brewers lost their game Saturday night in Atlanta, so the Cubs’ lead in the N.L. Central remains at 1½ games.

A few words about Joe Girardi, game analyst: Most of the time, he seemed master of the obvious, and his high-pitched voice is not well suited for TV, in my view. Perhaps your opinion differs. Len Kasper did his usual good job being neutral on a national broadcast and I’d expect Fox to use Len again for Cubs games on June 1 and 8 and July 6, the three other times the Cubs will appear on the network’s “Baseball Night in America.”

Another national broadcast features the Cubs Sunday evening, as they’ll go for the series win over the Nats on their third straight appearance on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball. Kyle Hendricks gets the start for the Cubs and Jeremy Hellickson goes for the Nats. Game time is 6:05 p.m. CT and the game preview will post here at 4 p.m. CT.